Open Roads Series Dispatch: “The Sicilian Girl”
With The Sicilian Girl / La siciliana ribelle director Marco Amenta returns to the subject of his 1997 documentary One Girl Against the Mafia / Diario di una siciliana ribelle to create a fictional portrait of Rita Atria, the real life daughter of a Mafia family who at the age of seventeen became one of the criminal organization’s fiercest opponents when she offered testimony in the Italian Mafia trials in the early nineties. Living in a witness protection program under an assumed name, Atria brought to anti-mafia martyr, judge Paolo Borsellino, a detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the Cosa Nostra organization through diaries she had recorded during her childhood while planning vendetta against the organization for the brutal murder of her father and brother. Threatened with death, spurned by her mother and her community, Atria broke the Omertà (“code of silence”) to name names and reveal secrets to the judiciary — including admitting into testimony the criminal acts of her father and brother. Though Atria herself committed suicide weeks after the infamous highway bomb murder of judge Falcone and Borsellino, her diaries remain a crucial first-hand account of the activities of the Cosa Nostra organization.
After an Open Roads screening, director Amenta discussed the process of making the film, working with resources available to him from the documentary, including actual diary entries, to imagine the inner life of this wild mafia princess turned anti-mafia crusader: “The documentary tells the facts. I wanted to tell her inner journey, what it was like to grow up in a mafia family. What it meant to admit her father and brother weren’t Robin Hood.”
Notable in The Sicilian Girl (2009) is Veronica D’Agostino’s (Respiro, 2002) performance as the imagined Atria. Amenta continued the casting process after selecting D’Agostino for the role to prove to the producers her strength with the material despite her being an atypical type for leading lady — a decision supported by a number of Best Actress awards. “She is from the island of Lampadusa, a wild creature — it was better to have this kind of actress than a technical actor in this role.” The surrogate for Paolo Borsellino in the film, Gérard Jugnot, was a technically focused actor from France: “He didn’t speak her language and it was useful that these actors were from such separate worlds.”
Amenta pointed out that while perhaps 5% of the population of Sicily are directly involved with organized crime, a marginal population out-of-proportion with both myths and reality of a Mafia-controlled Sicily, the influence doesn’t end there. “People say that Mafia only effects those involved,” Amenta said, “but I say it effects everyone: puts the wrong doctors into the hospitals, places professors into the universities because of Mafia ties.” But why isn’t the law-abiding majority able to obliterate the criminal element? These films are Amenta’s attempt himself “to do something about the Mafia.”
The audience asked Amenta if he had be threatened in response for making this feature. He revealed that after making his documentaries, the criminals who accusing him of slandering them in the films — in a move that mirroring the shift in practices of the present day Mafia — instead of killing him, sued him for around $500k each. (Though to date Amenta has won a number of the cases.)